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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Raitt Rough, Rollicking at the Pantages

June 15, 1998|STEVE HOCHMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Was that a midlife crisis Bonnie Raitt was having onstage at the Pantages Theatre on Friday, repeatedly dredging up references to her youth?

No--Raitt worked through that rite of passage in 1989 with her "Nick of Time" album, the one that connected with her fellow baby boomers as they hit 40, elevating her from respected artist to full-fledged pop star.

This was more of a post-midlife kick in the pants.

She boasted of seeing her dad, veteran singer and actor John Raitt, star in "Shenandoah" on the same stage--and she later brought him out from the wings to sing "Oklahoma!" She recalled playing a 1972 showcase at the tiny Troubadour. And she marveled at the history she's shared with Jackson Browne, who came on to sing one of his early-'70s songs with her.

But rather than make her seem wistful, the memories she raised seemed to spark her natural sassy streak.

The same mood extended to the music Friday (the opening of her three-night Pantages stand), with just a little more grit added to her slide-guitar blues-rock, just a little more yearning injected into such ballads as "I Can't Make You Love Me."

After the "Nick of Time" album, Raitt settled into some comfortable patterns. Who could blame her? After years of career ups and downs and battles with various personal demons, she finally achieved success, acclaim and stability. But she also fell into a sort of complacency. Subsequent albums were largely done from the "Nick" template.

Friday she feistily fiddled with the formula, largely by filtering it through the spirit of her younger days. Her new "Fundamental Things" album had already moved in that direction, with co-producers Mitchell Froom and Tchad Blake helping bring out some rougher edges. In concert with her four-man band, such tracks as the title manifesto and the restless "Spit of Love" also set the tone for reworkings of songs from the previous few albums. "Love Sneakin' Up on You" in particular benefited from a chunkier rhythm and dirtier sound.

She only reached back for two pre-"Nick" songs--a rousing "Give It Up" and an encore of John Prine's gloriously aching "Angel From Montgomery" with Browne, Raitt's husband, Michael O'Keefe, and Keb' Mo', the acoustic blues revivalist who won the crowd with his genial and accomplished opening set. In that song especially, a richness and depth are gained from the weight of experience. But it also benefited, as did the entire show, from a stronger-than-ever connection to the internal forces that launched her into music in the first place.

"Some people miss their youth," she said before rocking on the new "Blue for No Reason." "I miss being 8 years old. But I feel like that a couple hours a day, when I'm right here."

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